Field Trip: Boston Medical Center’s Preventative Food Pantry

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BMC Food Pantry

Recently, I had the opportunity to see how one hospital is working to address hunger as a health issue.  It began twelve years ago when Dr. Deborah Frank, a pediatrician at Boston Medical Center a safety-net hospital, decided to holistically address what she saw as chronic hunger in her community.  Children would present to the hospital reporting tummy aches.  After a battery of tests, it would occur to doctors to ask, “When was the last full meal you ate?”

It was then that she established a preventative food pantry and demonstration kitchen.  Engaging doctors to screen for food security  not only saved the hospital money but also saved children from enduring further medical testing.

Now hospital-wide, doctors and clinicians are screening and writing “prescriptions” for the more serious cases to visit the food pantry where they receive fresh fruits, vegetables and meats year round.  This “prescription” becomes part of their electronic medical record and doctors can follow up with their patient’s progress.  Here in the demo kitchen, they also learn how to prepare the meals in a tasty way specific to their dietary restrictions—giving people the tools they need to be healthy and manage chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS and cancer.

Through creative partnerships, the food pantry is able to run on 100 percent development funding.  Partnerships such as Food for Free, a farmer’s market program that donates produce not purchased, the Greater Boston Food Bank and the garden atop the BMC roof, the preventative pantry is able to supply 7,000 people per month with quality, nutritious food.   But it is not as though, the pantry does not have to pinch pennies; it serves 500 families a week on $500.

None of this would be possible if it were not for the extremely dedicated staff, namely Latchman Hiralall a registered dietician who was at the pantry from the start.  His warmth and empathy are notably from the very moment you meet.  Operations are sharp and created in a way to ensure the utmost dignity for the clients he serves.  Carts are prepared with a variety of fresh food while clients fill out paperwork.  When ready, they come to the back and choose from their cart filled with foods to suit their health needs.  Latchman says, ”That way if they already have squash at home, we can give it to someone else.”   He is always cognoscente of pride, especially with “older folks”.

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And that is what is particularly notable about this program.  Not only is it serving a need, addressing cost but it does so in a way to serve Boston Medical Center’s mission of “Exceptional Care, Without Exception”.

As we talk about chronic disease, costs and deficits, it’s an important reminder to get back to what works, access to healthy, fresh foods.  Hospitals across the country are seeing the value in getting back to basics and replicating this model.  But it is not enough.  The scope of this program only allows the most acute patients to visit the pantry twice a month leaving plenty of people in need.

Although a government default was temporarily avoided, the conversations about how to manage the deficit will continue.  Chronic conditions are a major health care cost driver.  Investing in programs like the preventative food pantry and SNAP will not only ensure health expenditures decrease, but we will have a healthier, more productive population.

If you’re interested in learning more about the pantry or helping out, click here.  And if you’re in the Boston area and would like to contribute by sampling complementary brews at Harpoon swing by Nov. 7th.

Come join us in celebrating the incredible work of Boston Medical Center’s Preventative Food Pantry and Demonstration Kitchen and their efforts to fight hunger in our community.

We’ll be serving up a complementary sampling of some of Boston finest ales with a narrated Tap Talk by one of Harpoon’s beer connoisseurs . As well as little raffle with some amazing foodie prizes.

Bring your friends!!!

Thursday, November 7th 8-9 pm

Harpoon Beer Hall Tasting Room
306 Northern Ave
Boston, MA
(Next to the Bank Boston Pavilion)

Suggested donation: $20

(If you’ve given, this is my way of saying thank you. Come for the complementary beer.)

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